The Difference Between a Real President and a Reality-TV One

Eight years ago last Saturday–September 23, 2009–President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Portions of that speech are quite eerie, as though Obama somehow anticipated that the President who followed him would likely be someone who openly scorned the UN. Consider this passage:

Franklin Roosevelt, who died before he could see his vision for this institution become a reality, put it this way — and I quote: “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation…. It cannot be a peace of large nations — or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

The cooperative effort of the whole world. Those words ring even more true today, when it is not simply peace, but our very health and prosperity that we hold in common. Yet we also know that this body is made up of sovereign states. And sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and point figures — point fingers and stoke divisions. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anybody can do that. Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more.

Watching Obama’s 2009 UN General Assembly address and Donald Trump’s ghastly 2017 UN General Assembly address back-to-back, one wonders how the same country could elect both men. (Well, it really didn’t, but still…) Listening to Trump’s ridiclous ranting naturally leads one to question the logic employed by those who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but voted for the bigoted billionaire in 2016.

In his 2009 speech, Obama declared:

[W]e must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them.

This institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man’s capacity to kill had to be contained. For decades, we averted disaster, even under the shadow of a superpower stand-off. But today, the threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity. If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.

Eight years later, we are facing the harsh accuracy of Obama’s words. It is obvious that Trump craves war with North Korea, that his twisted imagination is aroused by the thought of somehow “winning” that war. Did the former Obama voters who went for Trump last November 8 even think about foreign policy–and the hard consequences of irrational American leadership with regard to foreign policy–when they cast their votes?

Eight years ago, Obama also declared:

[W]e must recognize that in the 21st century, there will be no peace unless we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet…The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders. Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated by drought and famine. Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear. Future generations will look back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on — why we failed to pass on an environment that was worthy of our inheritance.

And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over. We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world. And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.

And those wealthy nations that did so much damage to the environment in the 20th century must accept our obligation to lead.

Of course, Trump didn’t say one word about climate change during his rant. It is Trump who deserves the nickname “Rocket Man,” in the sense that his policies will cause carbon emissions to rocket upwards. One year ago tomorrow, in their first Presidential debate, Hillary Clinton condemned Trump’s disgusting denialism. Were the Obama-Trump voters listening?

Towards the end of his 2009 speech, Obama declared:

Sixty-five years ago, a weary Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the American people in his fourth and final inaugural address. After years of war, he sought to sum up the lessons that could be drawn from the terrible suffering, the enormous sacrifice that had taken place. “We have learned,” he said, “to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.”

Compare that vision to Trump’s sophistry about sovereignty.

This past weekend, it seemed as though Trump thought Colin Kaepernick was a bigger threat to national security than Kim Jong-un. Perhaps those who voted for this man should take a knee themselves–while they apologize for making a voting decision with catastrophic consequences.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.